Friend sentenced for role in murder

GREENFIELD — Linda Smythe remembers Ronnie Westbrook; she’s sure of it.

She’s seen him only a few times, often in a bright orange jail jumpsuit. Each sighting sparks something in Smythe’s memory, snippets of the man’s involvement in her daughter’s life before one fateful day last year when Katrina Miller was found dead in a Hancock County cornfield.

Wednesday, Westbrook was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in Miller’s murder.

Smythe doesn’t recall every detail, but she said she’s sure Westbrook dropped Miller off at her home a time or two. If that’s true, if they were friends as they appeared, Smythe can’t understand why Westbrook would have been involved in her daughter’s death.

Miller, 23, was shot and killed in July in a cornfield located in western Hancock County.

On Wednesday, Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow accepted a plea agreement in which Westbrook pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal, a Level 5 felony.

Westbrook will be required to serve his time in an Indiana Department of Correction facility.

He originally was charged with murder and kidnapping, as were Amanda Gonzales, the mastermind of Miller’s murder, and Joe Meyers, the triggerman.

Those charges were amended in March because GPS data from a state-issued tracking bracelet Westbrook was wearing at the time of the killing showed Westbrook was not at the scene of the murder when Miller was shot, prosecutors said.

Police said they believe Gonzales orchestrated the murder after finding Miller in a hotel room with Westbrook. Westbrook and Gonzales were dating at the time.

As part of the plea deal, Westbrook had agreed to testify against Gonzales at trial, but Gonzales pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to commit Miller’s murder. She will be sentenced next month.

Meyers was found guilty after a two-week trial last fall and is serving a 75-year prison sentence.

Witnesses testified that Westbrook drove with Miller, Meyers and Gonzales to the Hancock County-Marion County line. Westbrook, knowing that his movements were being tracked, got out of the vehicle, and the others continued on, police said.

Meyers shot Miller in the back of the head with a .380-caliber handgun belonging to Gonzales, investigators said. The pair then left Miller in the field and picked up Westbrook about 10 minutes later.

Westbrook then concealed the suspects in hotel rooms he had paid for, police said.

At the hearing Wednesday, Smythe addressed Westbrook from the witness stand. She told him how disappointed she was he did not try to help her daughter escape from what was obviously a dangerous situation.

“You felt it was bad enough that you asked to be taken away,” she said, reading a prepared statement. “When you asked them to drop you off at that corner, why didn’t you try to get Katrina to come with you? Why, when you found out about the murder, did you let her lay there in that cornfield for four days?”

While she spoke, Smythe showed Westbrook pictures of Miller, many of which showed Miller with her 2-year-old daughter.

Smythe told Westbrook how painful it was the watch the young girl struggle to understand her mother’s absence.

“It is a pain I can’t describe and one I would never wish upon another person,” she said.

After the hearing, Smythe said she had hoped Westbrook would receive more time for his involvement in Miller’s killing.

Now, she’s waiting anxiously for Gonzales to be sentenced, at which point she may be able to find closure for her daughter’s death.

Gonzales returns for sentencing May 20.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.